A stroll through time and tradition in Socks Lane

Tan Weiyun
Walking down Socks Lane, also known as "Beinei Road," in the heart of Zhongshan Street is like taking a walk down memory lane.
Tan Weiyun
A stroll through time and tradition in Socks Lane

Walking down Socks Lane is like entering a time tunnel that instantly pulls people away from the rush and bustle of modern life.

Socks Lane, also known as "Beinei Road," is located in the heart of Zhongshan Street, to the east of the Tongbotang River, and stretches around 700 meters from south to north. It was once the main thoroughfare to northern Songjiang.

The name "Socks Lane" does refer to socks. During the Ming Dynasty (1368–1644), there were no summer sock shops in Songjiang. People still wore felt socks.

'Youdun cloth' woven from mulberry silk threads was used to make single-layer summer socks that were exceedingly lightweight and elegant during the Wanli era (1573–1620). People traveled from all over to buy them, and as a result, hundreds of sock businesses sprouted up in the area."

At its peak, the street was lined with more than 100 sock shops, making it the heart of Songjiang's summer sock trade. The socks, known for their thin, lightweight, and appealing design, gained popularity by word of mouth and drew merchants from all over the world to buy them.

To some extent, the lane is one of China's earliest examples of capitalism. It is also the only surviving reminder of Songjiang's once-thriving cotton textile industry.

The Tongbotang River runs along the west side of Socks Lane, and a little wooden bridge crosses it to a temple on the other side.

According to legend, in 1919, a painter called Zhang Zhengquan became a monk at the monastery for 100 days, adopting the Buddhist name "Daqian" to mourn his slain fiancée. Three months later, he returned to his secular life as Zhang Daqian and earned fame as one of the top painters of the 20th century, even being nicknamed the "Eastern Picasso." The religious structure has now vanished, leaving behind a heartfelt love story.

The Songjiang County Guesthouse, located at the east entrance, is etched in the memory of long-time residents. This location was once a crucial hub for Songjiang's external exchanges. Guests from other provinces and overseas visitors dined and stayed here.

People used grain vouchers for rice back then. The rice weighing station at the entry was the busiest spot. The atmosphere was always lively, whether it was day or night, on the road or along the riverbank. At the head of the lane, there was a long-distance bus terminal, the scene of many emotional farewells.

The houses that remain in the alley today are historic residential buildings that accommodate approximately 60 families, all of them beneficiaries of welfare housing.

"Getting a house back then was a real stroke of luck," said Gao Xingchang, a local. He also remembers that when they initially moved in, there were some modest cottages erected by fishermen near the river. These homes, however, were subsequently demolished.

The once bustling alley has been transformed into a lovely tree-lined road. In 2001, a green belt was established along the river's east bank. After lunch, residents now take leisurely strolls. The maples and Chinese parasol trees flanking the road stand peacefully, their gnarled branches eloquently telling the shifting seasons over the past century.

A stroll through time and tradition in Socks Lane
A stroll through time and tradition in Socks Lane

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